Breaking Boundaries

Jim Euchner, From the Editor, Vol 61.6

“Differences of opinion should be tolerated. But not when they are too different. For then he becomes a subversive mother.”

—Miss America inWoody Allen’s Bananas

 

Early in my career, as part of a corporate culture exercise, I was introduced to the nine-dot problem. By now almost anyone connected with R&D or innovation has seen it. The challenge is to connect nine dots organized as a grid, using only four lines, without lifting your pencil. The group that I was part of for this exercise was an artificial intelligence lab, and the members seemed to be more driven to challenge the boundaries of the puzzle than to solve it. Most people solved the four-line version rather quickly. Then someone declared that he could do it with three lines (taking advantage of the large dimensions of the dots on the puzzle to skew lines through their edges); someone else claimed he could solve the puzzle with one line and did so by making a cylinder of the playing board and using a slightly askew line circling many times around the cylinder to hit all the dots; finally, someone said he could solve it with zero lines (one point) and folded the paper so that all the dots aligned, one above the other. He stabbed the stack of dots. Done!

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The Internet of Things

Jim Euchner, From the Editor, Vol 61.5

Give ordinary people the right tools, and they will design and build the most extraordinary things.

—Neil Gershenfeld

The Internet of Things (IoT) has taken on many meanings. In manufacturing, it means instrumenting and informating factories so that data can be used to improve quality and productivity. In logistics, it means a unique identifier for individual items so that supply chains can be made more intelligent. In new product development, it means the development of smart, connected products that provide information about their state so that information can be used to improve the operations the products support. It can also mean the use of information to broaden the traditional design space for a product. Finally, for manufacturers, IoT means the proliferation of data-based business models, especially those that sell products as services.

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The Parable of the Soil

Jim Euchner, From the Editor, 61.4

“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path and was trampled, and the birds of the sky ate it up. Some seed fell on rocky ground, and when it grew, it withered for lack of moisture. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some seed fell on good soil, and when it grew, it produced fruit a hundredfold.”

Luke 8:5–8, New American Bible

 

An innovative culture is one in which radically new things can happen with some consistency. That culture is rare, and it requires nurturing. Like the seeds in Luke’s version of the parable of the soil, innovation requires the right conditions to thrive and produce fruit. Without those conditions, innovative impulses may crop up, but like seeds scattered in the wrong place, they won’t grow to maturity. The parable of the seeds offers a useful analogy for the factors in the corporate environment that can stifle innovation—or allow it to thrive.

 

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The Emergence of Innovation in China

Jim Euchner,  From the Editor, RTM 61.3

“Let me speak frankly: the advantage of innovation for multinational companies has shrunk substantially since the early 2000s.”

—Professor Hengyuan Zhu, Tsinghua University

 

I was invited to visit China for the first time in 1989, to speak about expert systems, then at the forefront of practical AI. At that time, technology transfer from the West to China was a one-way street, and it was expected to be so for some time. My visit was canceled by the tragic events at Tiananmen Square in June of that year. The emergence of a vibrant culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in China seemed very far away.

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